Much like first-responder training in other safety-critical sectors, individuals and teams in the aviation ecosystem use simulation to learn and rehearse roles and responses for anticipated crises. Group editor Marty Kauchak highlights some strategies to train stakeholders.

“There are several stakeholders taking action – including industry and/or governmental organizations,” noted Dr. Paulo Alves, Global Medical Director at MedAire. “However, there could be better alignment and synchronization across the interrelated sectors. At the same time, the fast pace of change observed during this pandemic, with new countries being affected on an everyday basis, generates a state of uncertainty and even panic which demands for more education and standardization to guarantee a uniform response from the aviation sector.”

The industry expert matter-of-factly told CAT that, although COVID-19 is a new virus, the overall threat is not.

Dr. Alves’s insights were provided from MedAire’s deep involvement in all aspects of the Covid-19 crisis. At one level, the company’s medical team and logistics experts are extremely busy collecting and consolidating information from multiple sources. “Our strategic position within the industry allows us to observe different practices adopted by different airlines around the globe,” he explained, and emphasized, “This constant feed of information is shared with our customers on a regular basis, either via webinars, best-practice documents, and development of e-learning materials and day-to-day responses to specific questions.”

Alves noted e-learning and webinars have become key tools to disseminate accurate, timely information and share best practices – particularly in times of travel restrictions and when social gatherings are not advised. Further, he offered that “real-world” examples of prevailing scenarios are the best source for developing meaningful educational material that can be used in training and even simulation products.

Hands-On is Hands-Down Best

Frank Ciaccio, interim Division Manager of Safety & Emergency Management for the Houston Airport System, noted that beyond live, hands-on training, his department routinely, throughout the year, conducts several tabletop exercises and drills with carriers and different stakeholders throughout the airport system.

The Houston Airport System consists of three airports: George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), William P. Hobby Airport, and Ellington Field/Houston Spaceport. One glimpse of his scope of responsibility can be viewed through IAH, the largest of the three airports, which serves as a United operations hub and has a large international carrier presence. IAH accommodated 45.3 million passengers in 2019. It served 118 domestic destinations and 69 international destinations.

The senior first response authority explained, “We have done several tabletop exercises with CDC [US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] on how to handle medical pandemics and other disease outbreaks such as coronavirus and ebola. Our communications department has a robust crisis communication for all Houston Airports that they update frequently and practice during the emergency preparedness drills.”

Ciaccio added their system completes “most of its training on a hands-on approach; we’ve learned this is the most effective way for emergency preparedness. We value the cooperation and collaboration between all that are involved in these exercises, which strengthens our readiness for any potential crisis.” And while exercise leaders present all training material in writing and in PowerPoint format as well, they “are working on developing e-learning resources that support our real-world scenarios and exercises.”

Ciaccio said every crisis is unique and presents its own particular challenges. From his perspective, as his system’s yearly number of passengers increases, so should the emergency management department. “We hope to hire several individuals in the near future who have experience as master planners and can help us strengthen our team, facilitate and conduct our trainings,” he said, and emphasized, “For airports our size, we need to be training on a monthly if not quarterly basis. I am hoping to increase more tabletop exercises with our carriers and in particular our ground handlers as well. I want to do more specific exercises, for example, conduct continuity of operations training, crisis communications and exercise our mobile incident command vehicle.”

Reflecting on the events of this spring, Ciaccio concluded emergency preparedness evolves constantly. “With the current threat of coronavirus, we have learned valuable lessons working jointly with our federal, state and local partners. This will help us to update our best practices and be better prepared for future crises. Additionally, I want to encourage reviewing our plans at least once a year and make any necessary adjustments that we can.”

Replicating Real-World Events

Hampton, Virginia-based ATS is one S&T company which caught CAT’s attention, as it delivers training for the US Army, National Guard, and state emergency management agencies across all US states and territories, as well as internationally. Jason Bewley, company President, noted ATS training is designed to replicate real-world events and includes classroom instruction and curriculum development, tabletop and full-scale exercise design and facilitation, and development of web-based simulated disaster models and scenarios which are deployed through its ATSsim Suite training tools.

“ATS supports both live and virtual training for every type of manmade and natural disaster, such as a pandemic. As the nation currently experiences disruptions in training and operations due to coronavirus, ATS is able to continue to host training using our distributed training environment to customers all over the world without requiring travel.”

Bewley noted that ATS industry experts, consequence management specialists, and the ATSsim Suite training tools are available to enable pilots, flight attendants, airport emergency management, airport law enforcement, airport authorities, regional first responders, private sector and public sector organizations to prepare for pandemic-like events, natural disasters and terrorist attacks. “Whether working from home or the airport, personnel can train collaboratively on the same scenario at the same time. ATS specializes in providing innovative, immersive technology and service solutions that create awareness, preparedness and readiness when faced with emergency situations.”

Preparing for Other Crises

While COVID-19 is etched on most CAT readers’ awareness, the sector remains concurrently focused on training for other crises.

For example, Robin Pijnaker, Managing Director at Flame Aviation, is elevating firefighting training for another vital community stakeholder, cabin crews, to a higher level.

The Netherlands-based executive initially observed that most airlines fulfill their regulatory fire training requirements “by extinguishing a pool fire in the open air with an ordinary domestic fire extinguisher.” He opined this type of training does not adequately prepare the cabin crew to respond to the circumstances they will encounter during a real cabin fire. Asked to further discuss his observed shortfalls, or gaps, in current, community-wide cabin crew training, he continued, “To mention a few different conditions, during a cabin fire (and we have videos from real cabin fires filmed by passengers and posted on social media) there is panic in the cabin. Passengers are leaving their seats and are occupying the aisles, making it difficult for cabin crew to reach the fire location. There is smoke in the cabin, reducing the visibility. There is a burning smell which can indicate what kind of fire it is. Once reaching the fire location, there is very limited room to maneuver. The cabin crew member is close to the fire, the heat and the (toxic) smoke.”

Beyond on-scene dynamics, the size, weight, dimensions, handling, duration, range, and spray pattern of the fire extinguishers flight attendants have at their disposal on board may be completely different from the extinguisher they used during their outdoor fire training – not permitting them to respond as they train. “They might have completely different expectations from the weight, range, duration and effectiveness of the fire extinguisher they have at their disposal,” Pijnaker added.

To help increase flight attendant fire-fighting skill sets and close training shortfalls, five years ago Flame Aviation developed, in close cooperation with KLM and Lufthansa, a fire trainer concept that offers a realistic aircraft cabin environment with real dimensions, consisting of a galley, seat rows, overhead luggage bins and lavatory. Pijnaker pointed out, “During training, cabin crews get exposed to real fire, smoke, heat, a burning smell and the sound of panic in the cabin.”

To point, Flame Aviation’s V7000 Brigade and its flagship V9000 Commander trainers offer realistic, high-fidelity conditions to permit training for open fires, concealed fires, electrical fires and lithium-ion battery fires. While COVID-19 dominates this community’s attention, regulatory agencies and other stakeholders continue to focus on the threat, and occurrence, of onboard lithium-ion battery fires. Pijnaker pointed out his team’s fire trainer offers the possibility to realistically train the procedures to neutralize lithium-ion battery fires. “For that purpose, our fire trainers are equipped with a laptop fire scenario, a smartphone fire scenario and a tablet fire scenario including fire, smoke, glowing spot and removeable PEDs (personal electronic devices). During the fire training procedure any type of lithium-ion battery fire containment bag can be used in the fire trainer to take and stow the neutralized PED,” he added.

The corporate executive continued that in Flame Aviation trainers representative training fire extinguishers are being used with the correct size, weight, design, handling, duration, range and spray pattern, as found in airline fleets. He added, “Training with these fire trainers, cabin crews will obtain the required knowledge, skills and confidence to successfully neutralize real aircraft cabin fires.”

Flame has been asked to further develop standardization, examination and logging of training for supported training audiences. Pijnaker concluded, “Therefore, we are developing preprogrammed scenarios, objectively measuring training results, logging individual training results and integration of these results with existing learning management systems.”

Flame Aviation’s expanding global customer list ranges from large national carriers (British Airways and others) to low-cost airlines (Ryanair and others) and independent training centers (such as CAE).

The Opening Round

Technology is adding rigor and increased fidelity to training programs for diverse communities. While program managers invest in simulations to better prepare and rehearse for pandemics and like events, training devices are being delivered to immerse crews in simulated scenarios. There are opportunities for civil aviation training organizations to selectively harness advancements in adjacent sectors.

At the same time, vital gaps remain on the effectiveness of programs designed to train and prepare aircrews, cabin crews and other members of the civil aviation enterprise for crises.

CAT Focus on Crisis Prevention and Response

The focus of this and follow-on CAT articles is to highlight industry discussions on training for crises, not only for the aviation community’s all-hands-on-deck efforts during the Covid-19 event but anticipatory events in the future.

Disparate insights presented by community stakeholders, while a starting point for dialogue on training readiness, provide several data points: the community is using a mix of live, hands-on training events supplemented by technology-enabled instruction to learn and rehearse relevant skills.

One of CAT’s continued strengths is raising aviation community awareness of developments and trends in adjacent high-risk sectors. Of particular relevance are opportunities to be aware of new, or heretofore unknown, consequence management training aids, simulations and like products to prepare decision-makers and other aviation sector stakeholders for crisis events.

If you have a best-practice training approach for specialized crises situations, we’d like to hear from you and share it with your colleagues in the community.

Published in CAT issue 2/2020